Home Improvement: Let there be light - now

Interior design feature by Ellen Widdup (No 8)

Interior design feature by Ellen Widdup (No 8) - Credit: Archant

Take a good look around you. What is missing from your home? Are your best features on display or lurking in the shadows?

Lanassia ... interior design feature by Ellen Widdup

Lanassia ... interior design feature by Ellen Widdup - Credit: Archant

According to interior design experts across Suffolk all too often we focus on our paint colours and our soft furnishings and not on the how we illuminate them.

“Lighting is a much underestimated tool,” says Lanassir Lawes, owner of Swank Interiors. “It can make the simplest white bathroom tile look magical or the most expensive mahogany dining table look cheap and nasty.”

Good lighting can make or break the atmosphere in a room, she claims.

So spending time on getting it right is the most important thing you can do to elevate your property from seedy to supreme.

Interior design feature by Ellen Widdup No 8

Interior design feature by Ellen Widdup No 8 - Credit: Archant

Strike a balance All rooms need a variety of lighting.

You need practical lighting – over desks and reading spaces.

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You need ambient lighting – to give a room warmth and comfort.

Interior design feature by Ellen Widdup No 8

Interior design feature by Ellen Widdup No 8 - Credit: Archant

And you need to make sure your best features get a glow – and here you can use lights to highlight.

Lanassir, who works in homes and commercial properties across Suffolk and Norfolk and designed the interior of apartments in the popular Neptune Square development at Ipswich Waterside Marina, says that taking a layered approach to your lighting system works best.

“Nothing makes a room feel dated and unwelcoming like bad lighting,” she says. “But it’s also a key way to update and modernise furniture or furnishings you have become tired of.

“Overhead lighting exists in most homes but a central light is not always the most flattering.

Interior design feature by Ellen Widdup, Lanassir

Interior design feature by Ellen Widdup, Lanassir - Credit: Archant

“On top of the overhead light it helps to introduce lamps, low level lighting and consider lighting at different levels.”

She has no time for spotlights – once considered the very cutting-edge of contemporary.

“Many people just fill a ceiling with spots,” she says. “This can be effective in a kitchen where you need brightness but in other rooms it can appear very harsh – almost giving it the feel of a shop interior rather than a welcoming retreat.”

Interior design feature by Ellen Widdup, Lanassir

Interior design feature by Ellen Widdup, Lanassir - Credit: Archant

Choices choices

Here are some popular ways to lights up your world:

n Downlighting

Downlighting should be used in its proper place.

During the day, rooms with good-sized windows will receive a fair amount of natural light. Yet in the evening, downlighters can help to create a soft overall glow that adds ambience. This is useful in a reception or dining space.

n Spotlights

These make a feature out of key possessions and architectural detail. They can also be interesting when used in the corners of rooms, where you would not normally have light. A dimmer switch can instantly change the lighting from dramatic to cosy.

n Statement lighting

Choosing statement lighting can be a tricky business but get it right and you can transform a room completely. This is especially true in a dining room where lights such as chandeliers over a table can create something special. Again, consider using a dimmer switch so you can experiment with brightness levels for different occasions. If it is too dark, you won’t be able to see what you are eating, but if it is too light the atmosphere will be spoilt and people’s complexions will look drained.

n Wall lights

Wall lights are a good option to escape overhead lighting. Setting wall sconces into a mirror creates a dazzling reflective effect. You could also consider lighting up bookcases by carving a track out of each shelf and inserting LEDs. This light can be cast upwards or downwards, lighting without producing any heat.

n Floor level lighting

Low level lighting can be very effective in rooms like bathrooms. It is unexpected and therefore adds extra dimension to a room. It’s also a space saver.

n Table lamps

Indirect lighting is an interesting way of adding atmosphere to a room. Charlotte Ford, designer for Cotton Tree Interiors in Saxmundham, says choosing the right table lamps can “create a beautiful and vibrant setting”. She often uses painted lamp bases to add a splash of colour to a scheme.

“Be bold and try going for something a little bit more unusual,” she says. “Maybe choose a colour to tie in with your curtains or wallpaper – this can help to spice up an otherwise dull corner.”

n Lampshades

When adding table lamps or freestanding lamps to a room consider the lampshade carefully. It should be in keeping with your colour scheme and add to the effect of the lighting rather than overpower it.

Your lightbulb moment

Charlotte believes that choosing the correct lighting can make objects comes alive.

And interesting lighting techniques should not just be reserved for your living room and dining area.

“It’s just as important to have soft, atmospheric lighting in your bathroom as it is with any other room in the house,” she says. “When you need to relax in the evening you won’t want your ceiling downlights shining down onto you in the bath or shower.

“Try introducing an illuminated mirror which will offer you a warm glow without a harsh or overpowering light.”

For a spa-like feel, combine downlights with low level wash lights under a basin, together with uplights behind a freestanding bath.

Give it a glow

A little light goes a long way.

As well focusing on the best features you can also use darkness to hide any areas you would rather not draw attention to.

But, as Charlotte points out, the quality of lighting matters almost as much outside as insides.

You should aim for good quality warm white LED light throughout.

Although this will keep your energy bills down and reduce maintenance to practically zero, it also gives you control over the amount of light you want at different times of the day or night.

“Lighting isn’t always about practicality,” she says. “Sometimes it’s an opportunity just to add a little sparkle.”

She recommends adding in some “fun” lighting – such as star in a bedroom to give a subtle glow of light.

“Experiment a little and don’t be afraid to get creative with fittings that you wouldn’t immediately have thought of,” she adds.